Pauls Toutonghi gives us an amusing read with his novel Evel Knievel Days. Kohsi, the novel’s main character, works at a museum and lives in Butte, Montana. A series of events leads him to take a trip to Cairo to track down his father, who has been absent for almost all of Kohsi’s life. Kohsi does not adjust well to the heat in Cairo, or to really anything in the city for that matter, and in his quest to find his father he quickly learns that his father has plenty of enemies.
Once they meet, it turns out that Kohsi’s father is engaged to be married and that his sisters, Kohsi’s aunts, do not even know Kohsi exists. (Kohsi’s father initially has him pretend to be the son of his friend Malik when he first meets his aunts.) A lot of drama follows, particularly when the aunts realize who Kohsi really is, but Toutonghi’s wonderful dialogue and sharp wit mix together to show the absurdity of the situation.
Other parts of Evel Knievel Days are less successful, particularly Kohsi’s relationship with Natasha—a woman he has spent many years pining for. Their relationship comes up in the first third of the book when Kohsi is in Butte, but it never gets resolved. In fact, a lot of the weaker parts of the book stem from how much time is spent establishing Kohsi’s life in Butte. Once we get to Cairo, it’s as if the book starts over. The ghost of Kohsi’s great-great grandfather, a Montana mining tycoon, starts appearing to him when he gets to Cairo, and I wondered if this was an attempt by the author to try to better tie things together. Instead, the ghost makes for some of the book’s worst scenes. Still, there is a lot to like here. I hope that in his next novel Toutoughi will either pare down his ideas or just write a longer book so they all fit in.